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Originally published Thursday, July 28, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Police empty Zimbabwe slum

Riot police turned an urban township into a ghost town yesterday, rounding up the last residents in defiance of a U. N. call to halt a demolition...

The Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Riot police turned an urban township into a ghost town yesterday, rounding up the last residents in defiance of a U.N. call to halt a demolition campaign that has left 700,000 without homes or jobs.

After emptying the Porta Farm township — where 30,000 people lived just days ago — earthmovers were seen lumbering into the area to finish clearing debris from destroyed homes, cabins and shacks as part of what the government calls Operation Drive Out Trash. Police armed with batons and riot shields barred aid workers and residents from entering.

The latest demolitions came as President Robert Mugabe paid a state visit to China, which is building a track record of willingness to do business with African leaders others shun.

In a meeting with the country's No. 2 leader, Wu Bangguo, Mugabe paid tribute to China as a "great friend, historical friend, brotherly friend."

Mugabe is confident China will use its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to protect Zimbabwe from any censure following the U.N. report denouncing the campaign as a violation of international law, a state-owned Harare newspaper, the Herald, reported yesterday.

China, which has expanded business and diplomatic contacts in African trouble spots such as Congo and Sudan, has not joined Western condemnation of Zimbabwe's human-rights record.

In fact, China has become a key source of loans and supplies for Zimbabwe. Most recently, Beijing agreed to a loan to expand a power station and supply a third Chinese-made MA60 commercial aircraft to Zimbabwe, state media in Beijing announced yesterday.

Opposition leaders claim the operation is intended to break up their strongholds among the urban poor and drive their supporters into rural areas, where they can be more easily controlled by government-allied chiefs.

Zimbabwe's government argues the campaign is aimed at reducing crime and restoring order in overcrowded slums and illegal markets, and has pledged to build new homes for those uprooted. But independent economists argue the government cannot afford the $325 million it has promised for reconstruction.

The U.N. report says the demolitions "unleashed chaos and untold human suffering" in a country already gripped by economic crisis. In addition to those who lost homes and jobs, a further 2.4 million people have been affected by the countrywide campaign that began May 19 with little warning, the report said.

The United States and Britain on Tuesday demanded a Security Council briefing on the U.N. report, but China has voiced objections to the possible meeting.

South Africa also has stood by Zimbabwe, insisting on quiet diplomacy.

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South Africa has indicated it may take over some of the country's huge foreign debt. The ruling African National Congress urged other countries yesterday to act on U.N. recommendations to increase international assistance to the most vulnerable in Zimbabwe.

After seven years of unprecedented economic decline, 80 percent of the work force is unemployed and 4 million of Zimbabwe's 16 million people have emigrated. Agriculture, once the mainstay, has been hit hard by Mugabe's seizure of 5,000 white-owned farms.

Mugabe alleges the country's current economic and food crisis, with up to 4 million people needing urgent famine relief, is a result of Western boycotts and sanctions imposed in revenge for redistribution of whites' land to black Zimbabweans.

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